Dog and Treats
This is a subjectwhich seems to get a lot of people hot under the collar.
There are those whosay that treats should always be used – or your dog will do nothing for you,and those who say quite the opposite – which is that treats are merely a bribe or a distraction, the dog will focus on the treat, not the person holding the treat, your dog should do as you ask without bribery.
I say that both (and neither) are entirely correct.
Why not use whatever works for the individual dog, in the individual circumstance?
For puppies, and for adult dogs which have been re-homed whether because of abusive owners, or simplyowners who can no longer take care of them, food is the single biggest tool to establish that you can be trusted as a good person to be with.
In both cases the dog does not know you. Trust must be established, and the quickest way to a dog’s heart is usually through its stomach. Food is vital for survival,and the person giving the food is immediately identified as someone of interest.
Every situation is different. A dog which (for good reason)is terrified of humans is not going to go to you simply because you have food. However if you simply throw food a little distance from you and by degrees closer, then do nothing else for however long it takes, the dog will gradually feel reassured that this is not atrap. Hands on at this stage will see him running for the hills – food is less important than getting away from the dreaded human. In time by very gentle stages you will be able to touch this dog, and eventually gain his trust – but this is much more because of the way you are with him, than because you have given him food. The food was just the first step in establishing contact.
For puppies it is different. They should have no fear of humans, so praise for every small compliance TOGETHER with a treat, is far more effective than praise alone. However itis very important to get the timing right – the praise and treat should always come after the compliance, not simply as a lure. The puppy needs to understand that this is a reward, not a bribe, and this is where there is a danger of over-treating, so that the focus is purely on the food in your hand – not the person who isholding it. This creates a dog which knows the cues, performs for the treat, and has little connection to the person holding it.
So I believe that just being with your puppy, or adult rescue dog, making yourself the person who is the very best person to follow and be with, is the first step – and you shouldtake your time establishing this BEFORE any formal ‘training’ takes place. A puppy, or an adult dog which has only recently come to your home, who learns by your treatment of him to follow you without being told to do so, who stays with you when you stop, who comes to you because he wants to be with you, is already halfway to being ‘trained’ without any commands at all – he has already learned this in a very natural way. He has been allowed to make his own goodchoices, and is already on his way to becoming a thinking dog – not a trickpony..
Once mutual trust,respect and loving connection have been established, I believe that treats should be phased out. This is the time when your dog should WANT to please you because your praise and obvious pleasure in his compliance should fill his soul with joy, and this is all he needs. If you need a treat for any ofthe basics at this stage, you have not done your job well. If you want to test this, try stopping yourdog from racing after something he should not, by dangling a treat – I guarantee the interest in something new and exciting will trump the food inyour hand every time. This is when youknow that the treats have taken over.
Once I have really good connection with my dog, perfect recall, walking with me when I ask,waiting when I ask, and most importantly the knowledge that he is connected tome even when he is some distance away (and you will know this when your dog shows that he is aware of exactly where you are at all times, and is ready to stop what he is doing to follow you without being told), and also that he has become a dog I can take anywhere, and will behave in a socially acceptable way with both humans and other dogs,because in any confusing human situation he will look to me to guide him, so remains calm and unworried by anything the world can come up with, and he haslearned canine etiquette either with my guidance, or simply from interacting with other carefully chosen dogs, I feel that I am ‘there’. This is all I require from my dogs – and this is where ‘training’ stops for me.
If you want more from your dog – tricks, agility, or any of the advanced disciplines – then treats can be brought back in, and are very useful initially as an aid for more complicated requests. However I still feel that these should only be necessary until your dog understands what you require of him. After that praise and enthusiastically demonstrated approval should be enough. So, would I give a treat at the end of a complicated man-oeuvre? Of course I would! The dog ‘done well’ - so why not?!
So, (for me at least),there is a place for treats, and a place for ditching the treats. There is no right or wrong if each is used atthe right time, in the right context, and with understanding of exactly why youare giving it.
By Lesley Harris
Co Author "Parenting Your New Puppy”
DECEMBER 7TH, 2017 @ 11:12:24 UTC